The singular beauty of Islay couldn’t really have been a better spot for Campbell Gray Hotels’ first property in Scotland. The hotel has undergone several years of renovation, with Peter Young leading the interiors.
Famed for the smokey depths of its peated whiskies and for the splendour of its coastal seascape, the Scottish Isle of Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides Islands. Just a quick hop by plane or ferry from the Scottish mainland, this scenic island has a population of around 3,000 and welcomes scores of tourists each year.
Hospitality is front and centre of the island’s economy and – with the recent opening of the Ardnahoe Distillery and Diageo’s plans to invest a considerable sum in reviving Islay’s iconic Port Ellen Distillery – the visitor experience is becoming ever more diverse.
The Machrie, in turn, offers a new hospitality experience for the island. Set amidst the dunes of Islay, next to the pristine beaches of Laggan Bay, the hotel boasts a historic golf course, 47 guest rooms, a restaurant, bar, spa and meeting spaces.
“Originally a farm house, then converted to a hotel, The Machrie has been a key part of the Islay history for many years so the locals are thrilled to have it back in operation, and looking so good!”
“The Machrie itself is quite an iconic building on Islay,” affirms lead designer on the project, Peter Young. “Originally a farm house, then converted to a hotel, it has been a key part of the Islay history for many years so the locals are thrilled to have it back in operation, and looking so good!”
Having built a firm relationship with Campbell Gray Hotels over the past two decades, Peter’s knowledge of their philosophy and design vernacular made him a natural choice to work on the group’s first Scottish hotel.
“I have worked on many projects with Campbell Gray Hotels over the last 20 years, notably Le Grey in Beirut and The Phoenicia Hotel in Malta,” he explains. It’s been wonderful to maintain that relationship with Gordon and such a pleasure to work with him and his team over the years.
“We feel part of the Campbell Gray family and when we were asked to work on The Machrie we were absolutely thrilled.”
Renowned architectural firm, Hudson Architects, have modernised the original Victorian building and have designed a striking contemporary extension. The hotel’s interior naturally mirrors this blend of traditional and contemporary, preserving original details and incorporating locally-made furnishings, while creating a fresh, Scandinavian-inspired aesthetic.
“The brief was to create a mix of Scandinavian style with a warm Scottish feel, so contemporary but warm and welcoming at the same time,” Peter explains. “We wanted the hotel to be quite residential, almost like a home from home.
“We have been honest to the local vernacular regarding certain details, such as the original staircase which we maintained and refurbished, and also externally with the window treatments which have a local border detail.”
Following a scenic drive to the hotel’s entrance, guests are warmly received in the comfortable lobby. A rich palette of dark red hues, with a natural slate floor and a crackling fire, create a traditional countryside feel, balanced out with quirky modern art.
Just off the lobby space is a cosy snug, where guests can read in front of the fire, or partake in some board games. Warm green and blue tones create a peaceful atmosphere, with pops of colour and texture from the soft furnishings and carefully curated artwork.
“The brief was to create a mix of Scandinavian style with a warm Scottish feel ... contemporary but warm and welcoming at the same time”
Also located on the ground floor is a small but perfectly formed PureGray Spa and Gym. Complete with two treatment rooms, a sauna and fitness suite, visitors can enjoy a range of peaceful Aromatherapy Associates treatments to the distant sounds of the North Sea.
In addition to offering the only spa on the island, The Machrie also offers the only cinema in the form of a 30-seat screening room. “The screening room’s dark blue carpet and chairs is surrounded by a beautiful dark blue tartan fabric walling sourced very locally from the Islay Woolen Mill, which is so subtle but absolutely stunning,” adds Peter.
The Machrie’s public spaces continue upstairs with the Stag Lounge. The focal point here is undoubtedly the gargantuan floor to ceiling windows that offer views out over the 18th hole. Come rain or shine, Islay’s dramatic panorama brings beauty and atmosphere to the space.
“The Stag Lounge features large format wall panels and a 7ft high fireplace – everything in this room is oversized, and yet through the colour scheme, fabrics and furniture it is a really cosy room and a lovely place for afternoon tea,” explains Peter.
After a pre-dinner drink or quiet moment by the fire, diners can move through into 18 – the hotel’s luxury restaurant. Specialising in high quality, fresh Scottish ingredients, the restaurant features an impressive vaulted glass ceiling that floods the space with natural light. Furniture in pops of red, blue and, yellow, brings colour to the space, without detracting attention from the awe-inspiring south westerly views over the Links and down to Laggan Bay.
A striking bar runs along one side of the room, a sculptural back bar gold relief depicting the 18 holes of The Machrie Links Golf Course as an architectural relief map. Next to the bar are a series of random illuminated golden slots in the wall displaying whiskies from the nine local distilleries on the island.
In terms of The Machrie’s guest accommodation, rooms range from classic, through eight private lodges, to the grand split-level Ben Hogan Duplex Suite. The accommodation as a whole features a clean, neutral palette, with choice pops of colour from the curtains, velvet armchairs, Roberts radios and soft furnishings.
Once again, views over the links and Islay countryside provide a key focal point here, but it is this remote beauty that perhaps posed the biggest challenge for Peter and his team.
“The largest challenge was the remote location of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, Queen of the Hebrides, and getting materials to site,” he explains. The builders were from Northern Ireland and did a great job organising the resources. It wasn’t an easy location.”
Despite these logistical challenges, The Machrie has created an exciting new option for tourists, whilst also enriching the local community and landscape. The stunning dune land of The Machrie Links – originally designed by Scottish golf professional, Willie Campbell, and modernised by former Ryder Cup Vice-Captain, DJ Russell – once again has a splendid hotel as its backdrop.